Stumbling off the steps of the bus I nearly sprinted across the school in just enough time to slip into an über which whisked us to my apartment. I swapped teacher wear for weekend costumes and we were on our way again. All aboard the train and finding our place in the beer cart it dawned on me that this was the first time I was exploring outside of Warsaw’s city limits. The curiosity broke through my exhaustive state and I felt alive alive again. The tickle of beer trickled down my throat releasing all the stress that had made home on my shoulders. I glanced outside the window and watched as a flattened grassy countryside was becoming drenched in an ephemeral glow of a setting sun. We were in an unofficial stare down with time, challenging each hour with an empty glass until the last twenty minutes when we claimed victory.
The train shot us into the city and like a ton of bricks it the thrill of adventure nearly knocked me off my feet. I was in a place where over 400 gnomes are situated throughout in a variety of positions, heights and costumes. The gnomes are a nod to an anti-Soviet resistance effort that was born in Wrocław. The early 1980’s were somber times where a communist regime tightened it’s grip on all of Poland essentially draining the country of it’s democratic values and forcing martial- law on it’s citizens. In an effort to lead a peaceful resistance an artist at the University armed his troops with spray cans and creativity. The mission was to tarnish propaganda with painting of naughty little gnomes and remind people that communism was wavering.
These gnomes were bringing light and laughter to a time period that was dark, dangerous and uncertain. The town’s main square was brimming with military tanks and personnel doing nothing but increasing it’s residents anxiety. As the gnomes started stealing the spotlight and whispers of their existence matured the town would began to organize marches. Images of the police arresting people dressed up as gnomes began swirling around the nation causing the police to look absolutely foolish. After this brief moment in national news pro-gnome gatherings began to spring up all around Poland (my neighbourhood still has some of the meeting places marked) and by 1988 in Wrocław there were 10,000 protesters all wearing orange-cone shaped hats chanting “Freedom for the dwarves!” This event has been immortalised upon the pages of history as the Revolution of the Dwarves.
These dwarves became an intregal part of the city’s identity after 2001 when the original statue was erected and have since taken on a life of their own. Night had already cast her shadow upon the town by the time we began to dance in the streets and scan every corner for our little bronzed buddies. Music buzzed and bumped off walls as we bounced from place to place leaving a trail of laughter in the air. Dragging ourselves up never-ending stairs the three of us tucked ourselves and the night away impatiently waiting for the sun to rise.
It was nearly eight AM and my feet were twitching and stomach was panging with hunger. Jess and I dragged Chelsea out of bed and down the roads in an attempt fill our emptied bodies. Tucked into a chic cafe we had fresh squeezed juices and crepes as we watched the sun cloak the town in it’s shimmering rays. Life was reappearing in our eyes and the facades encompassing us began laughing with brilliant color as the blue sky welcomed the day with it’s warmth.
Galavanting around town, drinking chai tea and eating samosas we found ourselves nose to nose with a dwarf parade. Re-entering the town square two giddy humans came and asked us to take a picture with them for a Wrocław Dwarf Festival game. We stood framed and masked snapped just in time for our counterparts to scatter leaving us empty handed. Hopping around, ducking and diving into random doors to explore what goods each had to offer soon the moon took control of the sky and we brought the dance to every party. Swaying and waving through the night pumping life into the night and bouncing when we collided with others too often. At an unknown hour we wound our way down to an empty brick beerhall and hosted our own private party in a musty cave that our whirling and twirling transformed into a castle. Time became a victim of the evening and as our eyes grew heavy as we wandered home with fries in hand allowing Chelsea to leave only a trail of chicken behind.
Sunglasses were needed for some of us to survive Sunday. We spent our morning sipping juice and swapping stories as we pottered around the park. Nearly tripping into a cozy cafe where trees and bird cages filled our peripherals we realized the sun was setting on our time here. The city of Wrocław had enchanted me, but it was time for us to head on gnome. But when all the leaves fall and the sky turns grey we will come back to this city to discover the magic that overtakes Wrocław on a winter’s day.